Invisible Labor Recognition: A Mother’s Report Card

This spring, I watched with great pride and admiration as my children brought home stellar report cards and received glowing comments from their teachers; my husband received the same during his annual check-up at work. Now I am a homemaker, after 14 years as a sociology teacher, and I thought, “Where is my report card? When are mothers evaluated and their good work recognized?”

So this year for Mother’s Day, I asked my family to make me a report card, to literally create one on the computer with all the relevant categories (described below) and then give me some grade and a narrative report (I want the real deal!). Just thinking of the myriad categories for them to use was an instructive exercise for me; I didn’t even know how much invisible work I do on a daily or weekly basis.

In any family (or community or organization), it is wise to consider what jobs need to be done for the home to function well and then divide it equally among family members. It seems better to take advantage of people’s strengths and use their particular talents. This method works to some extent, but there is always a residual category called invisible work, which includes repetitive tasks that are unpaid, generally undervalued, and most often performed by women. Invisible work is called as such because it goes unnoticed by those who benefit most from it. The invisible work also includes mental and emotional work, which are inherently obscured.

Here is a list of examples of invisible work:

  • Remember to make (and keep) appointments with the doctor, dentist, eye doctor and veterinarian for each member of the family;
  • Organize play dates for the children and make time to meet the parents of those play dates;
  • Remember that the car / truck inspection should be done this month and schedule the appointment;
  • Buy thank you cards for teachers, grandparents, etc. and then supervise the children who write those thank you cards;
  • Finding out that the cable bill is wrong and spending 25 minutes on hold waiting to speak to the cable company;
  • Correspondence with extended family members out of town (send photos of children; alternatively, update family blog);
  • Remind children to take their vitamins, allergy medications, etc.
  • Feeling like something is wrong with your kids at school and spending an afternoon or two trying to figure out what it is.

The invisible job alone deserves its own report card; women doing invisible jobs deserve to be brought out and their work openly recognized as an important part of running any household (or any organization for that matter). Imagine for a minute what would happen if all the mothers in the world or women in general stopped doing, even for just ONE day, all their hidden tasks? I don’t think it’s too drastic to say that some homes, communities, and organizations could literally stop working.

So if you choose to have your mom be a Mother’s Day report card, here are a few categories to consider (not in any particular order). Each category carries with it an invisible work.

A) Food related: cooking, shopping, packing lunch, or remembering to update lunch money at school.
B) House cleaning: vacuum cleaner, dust, bathrooms, kitchen, basement, etc. etc.
C) Laundry: wash, store, change sheets regularly.
D) Exterior: gardening, growing food, herbs, flowers.
E) Health: schedule visits to the doctor / dentist / ophthalmologist; take the children, schedule exercises for the family, cook whole foods.
F) Things: buying things for the home (ie children’s clothing, bath towels), getting rid of things (ie organizing garage sales), cleaning things up.
G) Community work: scheduling games, dinners with other families, making phone calls.
H) Activities: children’s sports, activities, family events, birthday parties.
I) Repairs: home, cars, articles.
J) Vehicles: repair, maintenance, filling with gasoline.
K) Love: snuggling, reading books, playing ball.
L) Other: things that only your mother does.

Honor your mom or the women in your life today with a brilliant report card! Better yet, decide what tasks you can take over this year!